Saturday, November 21, 2009

Day 81

My journey began in August and took me on a virtual tour around the world. It was initiated by a desire to increase my own repertoire as well as to give my family/friends a taste of diverse cuisines and open up their palates. It did a lot more than that- there is no doubt that I have learnt a lot about cuisines and cultures worldwide but along the way I learnt substantially about blogging, taking pictures and downloading them. It has also honed my rusty writing skills considerably. I enjoyed every part of it and was delighted to be able to share food and information with so many of you. There is a following on the blog as well as on Twitter and many friends,acquaintances and fellow foodies read it as part of their daily regime. The response has been very encouraging and I intend to blog on...

For my research I used cookbooks, family recipes ( mine and friends)as well as the Internet. I was provided with great information from websites like the lonely planet, wikipedia, Food network, epicurious and recipezaar to name a few. My life was literally taken over-there were menus to be selected, grocery shopping, piles of dishes, and blogs to publish on time, it was more than I had expected on the outset, but worth every bit of effort.

I am very grateful to each of you that may have tasted my cooking, given me encouragement or followed loyally. Please continue checking for updates and I will do my best to keep it interesting...

On a separate note- It is Thanksgiving and much as I promised to stay away from the kitchen for a few days, I was back. This year we are sharing this celebration with close friends and I am bringing a Tarte Tatin and a Potato Gratin. So here they are....

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day 80 Texas (USA)

Texas the final frontier is here at last- and it is with a mixture of relief and joy that I arrive in the "Lone Star state" on day 80 of my journey around the world. Texans put their own spin on popular Mexican dishes like Tacos and Burritos but it is their barbecued briskets and baby back ribs that take centre stage. Today's menu consists of a Texas style Barbecued Brisket, the key ingredient being its own homemade sweet and sour barbecue sauce.

The first step was to rub the brisket with paprika and salt. Onion, celery and carrots were roughly diced and scattered around the brisket which was placed in a large oven- proof roasting pan. A couple of cups of broth were poured over, the pan covered and left in the oven at 350 degrees for about 3 hours.

The next step was to discard the excess fat and shred the brisket( the meat was so soft - all I used was a fork). A little olive oil was heated and bacon rendered in it along with red pepper, onion and a jalapeno. A can of tomatoes and minced garlic were added in and cooked for another 10 minutes or so. The final step was to combine it with the shredded meat and homemade barbecue sauce and simmer on low for about 20 minutes.

The barbecue sauce was made with ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, dark brown sugar, chopped garlic, lemon juice, cider vinegar and oil cooked together over medium heat for 10 minutes.

The pulled meat and sauce was ladled onto toasted buns - the perfect way to end a long journey....

Day 79 South Western (USA)

South Western food is often confused with Mexican food and to a large extent it has its similarities, however it does have an identity all it's own; a fusion of food cultures of the Native American, the cowboys, the Spanish settlers and the Mexican give it so much more diversity. I could not pass up the opportunity to cook up a pot of Chili Con Carne so that's my dish for today. A hot and spicy bean and meat stew/soup is the best description for this dish that has gained so much popularity that a Chili cook- offs are almost a national sport.

To start off, I browned diced onions, peppers and garlic and added in the ground chuck, kidney beans that were soaked overnight and cooked (you can use canned beans). Oregano, chili powder and ground cumin were sprinkled liberally over it . This was sauteed over low heat till the beef was no longer pink. Tomato paste, a dash of Tabasco and canned crushed tomatoes were added in at this point. The pot was simmered on low for about an hour, and beef broth added in as necessary along the way.

The Chili was served over rice and topped with a garnish of chopped cilantro, sour cream, chopped hot peppers, red onions small diced and grated cheddar. The entire contents of a pretty large pot were cleaned out....

Off to Texas next...

Day 78 Southern (USA)

Edna Lewis, the Grand Dame of Southern Cooking and Chef Scott Peacock were an unlikely pair, she being the granddaughter of freed slaves and he a young white man, but the two of them made magic in the kitchen and changed the way the world looked at Southern cooking. Today's menu is taken from their collaboration-The Gift of Southern Cooking. Southern Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie- dinner's on.....

The chicken goes through an elaborate ritual before it becomes edible in this version of Fried chicken and is worth the extra work. The day I bought the chicken, it was cleaned inside and out, cut it into large pieces and soaked overnight in cold water and Kosher salt. The next morning the chicken was drained and a full quart of buttermilk was poured over and left for a good 8 hours until dinner time. The chicken pieces were drained once more over a wire mesh and dredged in seasoned flour before frying to a crisp ( I used vegetable oil although lard was recommended).

The Sweet Potato Pie was made with prepared store bought pie dough rolled out and laid over a Pyrex pie dish. The pastry was docked (holes made) and the filling poured in. The filling was made with roasted sweet potatoes mashed together with sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla extract, butter, salt, egg yolks and milk. Egg whites were whipped separately and folded into the mixture. The pie was baked at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.

Both recipes were fool-proof; the chicken was tender and crisp, the pie was like a prelude to the season.

Southwest coming up next....

Day 77 New England (USA)

Say "New England" and the first thing that springs to mind is a Clam Bake. In fact most of this regions culinary traditions stem from its abundance of fresh seafood. Clam shacks, lobster pounds and chowder houses are the backbone of these traditions, humble as they might appear.

Even though there was no dearth of recipes to pick from, I chose to do a Lobster Pot Pie today, simply because I love it-besides it is an old Yankee classic. This dish can be done two ways: with a buttery crumb crust that makes it like a gratin or a puff pastry topping that melts in the mouth. I went with the second off course...

Before I begin, I confess that while most of the ingredients I used are commonly found in pot pies- I took liberties and deviated a little. Having tasted Michael Mina's mind-blowing version threw me off the beaten path just a little. To begin, I blanched the lobster tail and removed the meat. Fingerling potatoes were boiled, onions large diced, carrots and zucchini julienned and button mushrooms quartered.

Garlic was sliced finely, onion and celery small diced and sauteed in butter with a bay leaf, followed by the lobster meat and a little tomato paste and deglazed with white wine. The carrots were briefly blanched and all the veggies added to the pot. Fresh parsley and thyme were thrown in along with a generous helping of half and half. Seasoned with salt and pepper, the pie was baked in a heavy copper pot with a sheet of puff pastry on top. Very close to the real thing.. yummy!

Next destination: Deep South....

Day 76 Midwest (USA)

The cuisine of the Midwest reflects the predominant influences of its Swedish, Polish and German immigrants and is best known for being hearty; meat and dairy play a large role. Even though Midwestern cuisine is varied, I consider Chicago the culture capital of this region and searched primarily for a recipe that symbolizes its tradition. As I wavered between a great Meatloaf recipe and a Shrimp DeJonghe( shrimp Casserole), considered one of Chicago's oldest recipes, a deep dish Chicago style pizza brought the search to a quick and happy end. The dough was made from All Purpose Flour mixed with corn meal. Active dry yeast was dissolved in warm water with a little sugar and left in a warm spot to activate and bubble. The dough was mixed slowly starting with a cup of the flour, cornmeal, the yeast mixture and vegetable oil (I used my electric mixer with a dough hook) ending with the salt until all the flour was incorporated. The dough was placed in a warm place, in a well oiled bowl and sealed with plastic until double in size. It was punched down, placed into cake tins ( Note to self: get deep pizza pans)and left to rise for another 20 minutes or so.

Two separate fillings were made. The first was made with 2 spicy and 2 regular Italian sausages removed from their casing and cooked in a pan until no longer pink. The base of the pie was layered with mozzarella slices, followed by the sausage, home-made Marinara sauce, more mozzarella and grated Parmesan. The second was filled with blanched and seasoned broccoli and spinach with the marinara and the two cheeses, with a chiffonade of fresh basil thrown in for flavor. Unbelievably good!

The kids declared this the best meal of all hands down- need I say more?

New England is up next.....

Day 75 Louisiana (USA)

Louisiana cuisine is synonymous with Creole and Cajun cooking, one being from the city, the other from the country. Today's dish is a classic New Orleans style Creole Gumbo, which has been likened to Jazz. Just like the music, Gumbo draws inspiration and evolves from an amalgamation of the French, Spanish, African, American and Indian cultures and cuisines of New Orleans.
A Gumbo is a one pot meal that sticks to your ribs, is robust in flavor and is best described as a cross between a stew or thick soup eaten over rice. There are a variety of proteins to choose from - I used shrimp and Andouille sausage for mine. First off, a dark roux was made in a heavy bottom pot with vegetable oil and flour cooked over low heat till it turned a copper color. Diced onion, celery and green pepper were added and cooked down followed by minced garlic, salt, pepper, paprika , Worcestershire sauce and bay leaf. Once this is cooked well, chicken stock is added in along with sliced, pan-fried sausage, and shrimp sprinkled with a gumbo seasoning ( I bought mine at a specialty spice store). The stew was cooked for 40-45 minutes (or until the floury taste is gone). It was served over rice with chopped parsley, basil and scallion greens sprinkled over the top.
Midwest tomorrow....

Day 74 California (USA)

We are finally in North America, with California heading up the journey through its regional cuisines. The Golden State is, as we all know, synonymous with fresh produce and Chefs like Alice Waters and Thomas Keller were the first to capitalize on it's natural bounty. In fact fresh produce and healthy eating seem to be the hallmarks of Californian cuisine and to celebrate this I opted for a Cobb Salad which traces its roots back to the Brown Derby in California, is decidedly healthy and as fresh as it gets!

Legend has it that the Cobb Salad's creation was purely accidental, after a certain Bob Cobb found an avocado in his icebox and went to work on it adding random ingredients along the way. I actually managed to get a version of the Brown Derby Old Fashioned dressing and hope that it tastes like the real thing!
Iceberg lettuce and Watercress were the greens of choice. They were rinsed,spun and chopped . Eggs were hard boiled and sliced, bacon cooked and diced, avocados and tomatoes sliced, roast chicken was shredded and blue cheese crumbled. All of these were assembled on a platter and drizzled with the dressing as well as with a little salt and freshly ground pepper.

The Brown Derby dressing was made with red wine vinegar, freshly squeezed lime juice, sugar, salt, pepper, mashed garlic, salad and extra virgin olive oil with a dash of English mustard.
A great salad for a party or buffet with a little bit of something for everyone.
Next up : Louisiana...

Day 73 Hawaii (USA)

A few years ago my family and I vacationed in Maui and were initiated into Polynesian culture with an elaborate Luau. An entire Kalua pig roasting on a spit, the distinct influences of Japan, Korea and China evident in the form of noodles, dim sum and sushi, a fish repertoire that is much more than Ahi Tuna or Mahimahi - all of this took me by surprise. I was expecting a whole lot of taro and pineapple, but quickly learnt otherwise. Today's menu pick is a Kalakaua Royal Crown Roast of Pork, which is named in honor of a certain Hawaiian royalty from eons ago.

Unfortunately, a crown roast has to be at least 14 ribs long in order to form a crown- way too much for my family dinner, but that didn't deter me. Instead of picking a different recipe, I picked up a smaller cut- a pork loin bone-in center cut roast. It may not look as extravagant but it tasted just as good.
The excess fat was trimmed off and the bone tips cleaned up. A slit was made along the thickest part of the meat to fill in with the stuffing( I had to improvise this part). A marinade was made with garlic and onions, basil and parsley leaves chopped finely, olive oil and lemon juice, pepper and salt( I finally got to use my pink Hawaiian sea salt). This was rubbed inside and out and the roast was left to marinate for a few hours.

The stuffing was made with onions, garlic and celery sautéed in butter. An egg, bread crumbs, chopped macadamia nuts, chicken broth, red wine, thyme, sage, salt and pepper were mixed in and this mixture stuffed into the cut made in the meat. I trussed it up nice and tight to keep the stuffing inside and roasted it at 375 degrees for about an hour, after which the lid was removed and the roast cooked for an additional half hour in order for it to brown evenly.

Moving west to sunny California....

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Day 72 Mexico

Home cooks all over America tend to churn out Tacos and Quesadillas on a regular basis and this is no accident. Even though Italian and regional American cuisines are popular with home cooks there is something about the intense and colorful food of Mexico that titillates our taste buds and keeps us coming back for more. It has become familiar and easy with practise and the variety keeps us from getting bored. I personally love their chocolate and spice combination and decided on the Chicken Mole without any hesitation. Even the long list of ingredients did not deter me - I could almost taste it as I read the recipe !

Chicken breasts were cleaned, trimmed, seasoned with salt and pepper, fried in smoking hot fat and set aside. White onion, tomatilloes, ripe tomatoes, and garlic were rubbed with olive oil and roasted. Cumin seeds, pepper corns, fennel, cloves and cinnamon were dry roasted and ground . Pasilla, Guajillo and Ancho peppers were seeded, rehydrated and ground to a paste. Dried raisins, prunes and apricots were simmered in red wine. Corn Tortillas were charred over an open flame. Toasted almonds were ground and set aside. I also got out my homemade chicken broth and some unsweetened chocolate to complete the mise-en-place.

All the ingredients were blended to a smooth paste (except the chocolate and broth), poured into a heavy bottom pan with salt and simmered for about an hour on a very low flame. It had to be stirred frequently to prevent sticking. After that, I mixed in the chocolate and broth and poured the sauce over the chicken breasts . This was simmered some more until the chicken breasts were cooked through. Rich and decadent is the only way to describe this recipe, the sauce sweet and hot by turns with the aroma of spices in every bite. High maintenance? definitely- but well worth it!

Making my way to the US- Hawaii's up first...

Day 71 Canada

They say that when America sneezes Canada catches a cold. Funny eh? Stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic up into the Arctic Ocean in the North, Canada is a country torn between two distinct cultures- British and French. On popular demand( from the family) I am making Canadian BLT's and irresistible Butter Tarts, a Canadian specialty.

Canadian bacon or Back bacon is prepared from centre-cut boneless pork loin. What distinguishes it from other bacon is that it is made from the back and not from pork belly and is leaner than the bacon we are used to. Rye was the carb of choice, slathered generously with light mayo with a spoon of mustard whipped in and topped with Canadian Bacon, sliced Provolone or Cheddar, sliced tomato and Escarole leaves.
It's almost impossible to go wrong with a BLT, but it was the Butter Tarts that stole the show!
Frozen pie dough was cut into 5 inch circles and fitted into a muffin pan. The filling was made by beating together butter, brown sugar, corn syrup ( I would leave this out next time)and a pinch of salt. Once creamy, an egg and vanilla essence were mixed in. Raisins were soaked till plump, drained and distributed evenly into each shell. They were topped with a tablespoon of the batter and baked at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, till the tops were bubbly and golden and the kitchen smelled divine.

I was a bit concerned about finding a dish that truly captures the essence of this HUGE country, and put in an SOS call to a friend in Toronto a few days ago. A fellow foodie - she responded quickly with this recipe. This one's a keeper- simply yummy!

Next up Mexico....

Day 70 Trinidad and Tobago

The Islands of Trinidad and Tobago have a unique blend of African, Indian and Caucasian races. The culture and cuisine of the island nation is a reflection of this blend and my pick today - a Chicken Pelau although similar to a Puerto Rican Asopao (which is more like a soup) has East Indian undertones. Immigrants from the Indian subcontinent have played a significant role in enriching the cooking of Trinidad and Tobago with recipes like this Pelau.

The first step was to soak the dried pigeon peas( found at most grocery stores) overnight. Then the marinade was prepared with thinly sliced garlic and Habanero (use Scotch bonnet peppers if you can find them) ketchup, honey, fresh lime juice, salt and freshly ground pepper. The chicken breasts were cleaned and marinated in half the marinade, saving half for later.

The peas were cooked and drained and the remainder of the ingredients prepped. Onions, Poblano pepper, carrots and red bell pepper were diced. Tomatoes were skinned, seeded and diced. Fresh thyme and cilantro were chopped.

To begin cooking, the chicken breasts were seared briefly in a pan, caramelizing and giving the chicken a rich golden color. In a large casserole, butter and olive oil were heated and the onion, sliced garlic, carrots, peppers, Poblano pepper and a bay leaf were sauteed. The herbs were thrown in followed by the long grain rice, peas, tomatoes and currants. At this point, coconut milk and chicken stock were poured in. The seared chicken was placed over the rice and the pot covered and cooked on a simmer for about 25- 30 minutes.

To serve, the Pelau was spooned onto plates, topped with the chicken and poured over with the reserved marinade which contrary to the recipe, I cooked briefly( the actual recipe dictates that it should be warmed and served). Topped with sliced green olives, the dish is a great way to get the kids to eat their veggies :)

Heading north to Canada next........

Day 69 Jamaica

"Ole still, mi si wan big maskitta pan yu foot". If you are confused here's the translation: "Hold still, I see a big mosquito on your foot." There's something about Jamaican English (Patois) that makes me laugh every time. In fact I am fascinated by their culture, lifestyle and off course the food. Most of us have used a version of commercial bottled Jerk at sometime in our lives. I did too, until a close friend gave me a wonderful book and so began my romance with all things Jamaican.

Today's menu is Jerk Chicken Breasts with Rice and Peas. Jerk sauce is a wonderfully rich and spicy sauce made with yellow onion, thyme leaves, chopped scallions, garlic, soy sauce, cider vinegar, ground allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper, sugar, salt, vegetable oil and a Habanero pepper blended to a fine paste. Chicken breasts were marinated in the Jerk and cooked in the oven for 275 degrees. The chicken was then removed and grilled over high heat basted with the leftover marinade repeatedly.

Even though this dish is called Rice and Peas it actually is made with long grain rice cooked with diced bacon, boiled kidney beans, garlic, coconut milk, sprigs of thyme, scallions and salt. Creamy and thyme scented with a bite from the Habanero - I believe it can be eaten all by itself.

Sadly I head off to Trinidad and Tobago...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Day 68 Guatemala

Guatemala, a country steeped in ancient history has me intrigued. On one hand it has its rustic town of Antigua nestled in between volcanoes and on the other hand the dirty, dangerous and "utterly forgettable Guate" as visitors describe the capital. I do not claim to be an expert on Guatemala or its cuisine and had to depend on my instincts when I picked our dish of the day- Jocon or pollo en Jocon a dish popular with the Mayan population of Guatemala.

Chicken breasts were seasoned, cooked and shredded. The broth was set aside. Meanwhile tomatilloes, cilantro, jalapeno, scallions and a couple of corn tortillas, soaked and drained were pureed together. Pumpkin and sesame seed were toasted and powdered in a coffee grinder. All the ingredients were combined at this point, blended till smooth and poured over the chicken. More broth was added to bring it to the right consistency and simmered for about 15 -20 minutes before serving. I served my Jocon with corn tortillas, but traditionally it is served over rice. Although the results were not terribly attractive to look at, it was incredibly moist and flavorful.

Away to Jamaica...lata...